I'm pretty sure Butch isn't really Butch here, for which I apologise! I'm normally alright at keeping people in character, but I struggled a little on this one, haha.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy! :) xo

The handle squealed painfully as it was turned. The door was heavy. A dull clang sounded as it was closed again, and the noise of her tired feet followed as she made her way down the metal steps. Looking nowhere but the rusted floor, she walked to the bar and slowly lifted herself onto a beaten stool. It was all routine. Her face was bloodied and covered in dirt. Her hair was a mess; overgrown and knotted, kept in check by a grimy red bandanna. The rifle on her back looked as if it was about to fall apart, and her clothing was torn to hell.

She didn't even raise her eyes to the person cleaning the bar top as she tossed a few caps in his direction and asked for a whiskey. The guy retreated, reappearing a second later with a shot glass. She sighed and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand as he poured her drink. He turned, ready to put away the liquor when the same hand grabbed his wrist. She told him to leave the bottle. He laughed lowly and set it down on the counter, before walking off to clear the tables behind her.

She perked up a little at the sound of his voice, and as he brushed past, his leather jacket skimmed her arm. She tilted her head slightly in his direction, still not gazing directly at him, and caught a strangely familiar scent. He looked at her through the corner of his eye as he cleaned. He smirked widely as he saw her brain ticking away, trying to figure out what it was he'd just reminded her of. Blinking, trying to clear away a silly thought, she returned her attention to the drink in front of her. His smirk faded.

A few minutes passed while she sat there eyeing the amber liquid and swilling it around the glass every now and again. Every so often she'd lift it, ready to drink, before dropping it back down to the table again. The place was empty except for her, the guy she couldn't quite put her finger on, and the few staff sitting on the couches by the door above. She was pretty sure the Rudder was meant to be closed by then, but it didn't seem like they really cared. After all, over the past few months she was probably the main reason the place was doing so well. She preferred it to that damn Weatherly Hotel on the upper deck, ever since she had that "misunderstanding" with Sister. The barman came back around carrying a load of empty alcohol bottles while she mumbled about "that fuckin' slaver scumbag" irritably under her breath.

She flinched a little at the sudden loud clinking from the bottles as the man dumped them in the trash. She continued to stare at the bar. He eyed her as he got back to cleaning the top. It had been a shock to see her like that at first, but he knew for sure it was the same girl. You don't forget the person who saves your life and springs you out of a crazed, underground tin can. He tried to compare her present figure with that of the last time he'd seen her, before 101 went to shit. She used to be real light, thin. Flimsy, kinda. Living in the wastes, she'd hardened; Bulked up a bit, built some muscle. Her face wasn't as kind as it used to be either, he noted. Even in her exhausted state, her eyes held a cold, distant severity he'd never seen before. Still wiping the counter absent-mindedly, he knocked over a glass and sent it's contents over the surface he'd just that second finished. Grumbling, he looked back up at her to see she hadn't even noticed. Or if she had, she'd just chosen to ignore it.

He was about to turn away again, when he noticed her start to fidget under his gaze. She'd seen that he'd stopped cleaning, and that his head was facing her direction. It made her uncomfortable. He liked that. He thought it might have made her curious, made her pay him some goddamn attention and take a look, but she never. She just tensed up, and brought her drink closer to herself. He sighed.

"Dammit, med girl, are you ever gonna recognize me?"

She stirred immediately. He smirked victoriously.

Tightening her fingers around the tiny shot glass, she brought it to her mouth and downed it hastily, licking her lips slowly afterwards. Her eyes met his and she smiled at the sudden sense of remembrance and familiarity his stare brought her. Her sight drifted over him, the same tall, dark, handsome, smug, smartass punk she'd grown up with. He looked more at home here than he ever had in the vault. Still, his good looks and bad-boy charm weren't even close to enough to make up for the nineteen years of bullying he'd put her through. Regardless, she figured she'd humour him, for the time being.

"If you're gonna talk to me, DeLoria, at least use my real name." she said bluntly, grabbing the liquor bottle and tipping it into her empty glass. "Besides, does it look like I'm a doctor?" she added sarcastically, gesturing to her current appearance. He sniggered. She feigned a glare. Deciding he'd make a peace offering, he reached into his pocket and fingered the caps she'd payed him with earlier.

"Alright, Nicola." He started, emphasising her name mockingly. He pulled them out and slid them across the table. She looked at the metal with suspicion, then up at him questioningly. He stared back as he explained, "I owe you one, least I can do, right?" She let out a grunt of amusement and reached for the caps, but winced in pain as she grasped them. Playing it off with a half-smile, she hid her discomfort quickly, worried Butch'd seen it, which he had. "At the risk of sounding completely stupid," the greaser began carefully, "you feelin' okay?" he scanned the wounds running up and down her arms. "You don't look so hot."

"Oh, y'think?" she spat back, then immediately gave him an apologetic glance. She threw the shot down her throat, and slammed the glass down on the bar. She felt the whiskey warm her insides as it made its way through her veins, and let out a contented sigh. Butch watched her as she took a few deep breaths, obviously trying to will her pain away.

"Well, what did this to you?" he asked, trying to make conversation.

"What d'you care?" she replied in a bored tone. He bit back an insult or two, reminding himself that he was trying to be sincere about it all. The last thing she needed right then was a classic Tunnel Snake one-liner. For a moment, he didn't really know how to answer her. She spoke again. "Anyway, even if I told you, you wouldn't understand. You've been outside, what? Three? Maybe four weeks?" she filled her glass again, recounting the day she returned home. "And only one day of those would have been in the wasteland. The rest you've been in here. Safe, protected. You don't know anything about the real D.C." she stated. He looked at her, insulted.

"Listen, Miss High & Mighty," he started. "I may have only been out the Vault a few weeks, but it only takes a few hours to learn about what's happenin'." He pointed a grubby finger at the radio across the room. "I've heard about a lotta shit goin' on out there. Just 'cause I acted immature in 101, doesn't mean I ain't changed. You gotta be smart out here, right? Well, I'm not as dumb as you think I am, Nic. So, just try me." he challenged. "Had a fight with one of those.." he searched his brain for a name. "..er, those..mutated bear monsters or somethin'?" She looked at him, somewhat taken aback. She apologised briefly. He waved it off, gesturing for her to continue, with a proud smirk on his lips.

"..What d'you know about The Enclave?" she asked, tentatively. He looked at her wearily.

"The Enclave?" he paused to think about it. "Oh..oh yeah! President Eden, right? The government, all that bullshit?" he stopped, yet again, as she nodded. "You got some kinda trouble with them?" he enquired, raising an eyebrow.

"You could say that." she replied lightly, rubbing a hand over a particularly sore wound on her forearm. He questioned her silently. "Plasma burn, assholes. Stuff hurts like hell." Butch glanced at the angry, red mark, flinching slightly, before making eye contact with her again.

"Why the fuck are you in here then? Shouldn't.." he shook his head, "..Shouldn't you go the clinic or something?"

"Probably. Used my last few stims on my way back. Patched most of it up. What you're seeing is just blood I couldn't be bothered cleaning off. I'll be okay.." Nicola answered nonchalantly as she trailed off, fiddling with the drink in her hands again before asking "So, how's life in this boat workin' out for you so far, Butch? And since when did you even land a job here?" she smiled at him, and he returned it.

"Well, anythin' beats that damn vault. Even this rusty, piece o' crap ship. It's nice bein' free, y'know? Instead of cooped up all my life like the rest of those losers. I swear, the thought of still bein' locked down there is enough to give me nightmares." he chuckled a little. She grinned along, knowing the feeling all too well. "I still don't understand why they're stayin' in there.."

"Like Amata said, most of them don't want to be stuck out here. They just want the choice, with a safe place to stay. It's not our ideal, but I guess we're just the odd ones out, right?" she smiled ruefully. Butch nodded in agreement.

"An' the job? I dunno really..spent a lotta time in here since the break out. Figured I needed to find a place to stay. Belle Bonny just kinda offered me a room one day, as long as I helped around here. That's pretty much all there is to it."

At that moment, Bonny called out Butch's name from above, grabbing his attention. "We're going, lock up after you're done cleaning." "Yeah, sure thing Mrs. B" she threw the keys down to him, which he juggled clumsily before catching. They were silent as they heard everyone leaving. As the door closed, Butch jogged up the stairs. Nicola heard the sound of keys turning in a lock, and looked up as he returned with a mischievous grin.

"Finally!" he exclaimed, rounding the bar and picking up a few different bottles of alcohol. Nic followed him with her gaze, clueless, as he walked back behind her and placed them on one of the tables along with two glass tumblers. After moving a ruined couch from the corner over to the table, he took a seat, and stared at her expectantly. After a minute of waiting, he let out an exasperated breath and walked over to her. He thought it seemed obvious what he wanted to do. Evidently not. "C'mon, we got the place to ourselves now. 'Less you got somewhere more important to be, might as well catch up properly?" She looked at him, incredulous. The infamous Butch DeLoria, wanted to talk? Seriously? He sighed again, laying a hand on her shoulder. "What'd I say about change? I'm not a complete idiot, Nic." Then, thinking he'd laid it on too much, he immediately distanced himself by removing his hand and saying "You look like you could use some company, is all." She just nodded. Downing her remaining shot, she got up and let him lead her over to the sofa.

They relaxed into eachother's presence as the hours drifted by and the drinks kept on coming.

"..so then, Christine goes up to Freddie and puts on the whole charade, and he's fallin' for it just like that!" he punctuated his words with a click of his fingers. He had one foot on the table and was leaning into her side as he spoke. "He's got it so, fuckin', bad, an' I'm just standin' there watchin', y'know? Gigglin' my ass off. He fell flat on his face tryna get his rations to her before Paul could. She just stepped right over him, picked up like, fifteen chips and walked off down the corridor without a word. I've never seen a guy so red before.." He laughed loudly.

The sound was infectious, Nic discovered. She hadn't laughed like that since the vault. There was hardly anything to laugh about out in the wasteland. In there though, she had Butch winding her countless stories, and she found herself forgetting about everything; where she was, the pain she was in. She took in his features as he spoke. His eyes were bright with happiness, his cheeks were rosy from laughing so hard and his smile was the biggest and most genuine she'd ever seen. It was a far cry from the Tunnel Snake she was so used to. After he'd poured them both a drink, Butch, in a moment of nostalgia, proposed a toast "To that shithole 101 and all it's batshit inhabitants." She obliged, clinking their glasses together and taking a sip.

Nicola had always had a crush on Butch. She remembered when her dad caught her looking at him one day, while he was in getting stitches after a nasty punch out with Wally. She remembered feeling something stir deep in her stomach when he pushed past her on his way out. Her father told her to stay away from him, and being the good girl she was, she obeyed. Nic laughed to herself as his expression filled her vision; a look of complete dread at the thought of his daughter being in any way related to the boy. Then her laughter faded. Butch was still talking beside her, seemingly going on about his G.O.A.T results. "..Brotch had some nerve that day, I'm tellin' you! I mean, me? A hairdresser? Fuck, that was all I nee-" his sentence stopped short as he noticed she wasn't paying attention. He turned to face her, and was shocked by the sudden change in her mood. Her eyes were distant, and he found himself missing her smile. He didn't say anything, instead waiting for her to explain in her own time.

"It's strange." she mused. "..It still hasn't hit me, y'know?" she said, blankly. Butch didn't need telling twice. He may not have known the full story, but there'd sure as hell been rumours. How had he forgotten? Nic and that Dr. Li chick from the lab had been at that big water machine when those Enclave fucks muscled in. Yeah, he'd heard it from GNR. He could hear Three Dog all over again in his mind, "Here's hoping James is okay." Shit, he thought, it all made sense. But how was he supposed to handle that conversation? Sure, he knew what it was like to lose a father, but he also understood that it was under completely different circumstances.

"It's been over a month and it's like I still think he's out there somewhere." She took a rather large drink. "The last time we really talked, all I did was shout. I blamed him for everything." Her eyes began to water. "He told me he was proud of me. That we had all the time in the world to talk things over." Tears started to spill over her lashes. "I was repairing things when they came. I fought my way back. He died trying to stop the Enclave. To save us. I tried to open the door. Get him out." she wiped her tears away fiercely. "I can't believe-" Then she broke down completely. By this time, Butch had set his drink down and put an arm around her neck. He pried her glass from her hands and put it with his on the table. Looking back at her, he did the only thing he could think of and pulled her to him. He shook along with her heaving sobs.

They stayed like that for a while in total quiet, Nicola felt terrible for turning the atmosphere sour, Butch felt sorry that he couldn't console her enough. Both felt awkward, but strangely at home being so close to one another. They pulled apart on realisation. Butch decided to break the lull first.

"Look, Nic." he spoke cautiously. "I know I was never that good to you in the vault." He was speaking slowly, obviously choosing his words. "You know it was all an act, right?" When she never answered him, he added "But, er, I just wanna say, you've been through a lot, an' I'm ready to make up for bein' so stupid. You need anythin', an' I mean at all..Well, I-I'm here."

He took charge of his feelings by enveloping her small, bruised hand in his. The warmth was a welcome sensation on her skin. Something she'd not realised she missed. Human contact on that level was a rarity in the wastes. It was nice to have someone hold her hand for comfort's sake, not to just try and break her fingers. The ship groaned, perpetuating the silence that had fallen between them. She didn't know how to reply. She realised how much it must have taken for him to even think of admitting that to her, let alone actually saying it.

In that moment, for the first time all night, she became extremely aware of how close they were sitting. She didn't know if it was the vodka, or his breath on her face that made her skin tingle. She raised her eyes to his, and was met with a look of intense determination. He wanted to prove himself to her. Show her that he cared. She blushed under his gaze, and he slowly brought his free hand up to cradle her cheek. Nic lent into his touch, shutting her eyes again. She sensed him inch closer, and was subtly surprised when she found herself following suit.

Their lips met slowly, in a chaste kiss. A test. Their caution was quickly forgotten as both leant in once again, this time aided with a little more courage than last. Butch let go of her hand and placed his at the base of her back, bringing her steadily closer. She, in turn, brought her hands up to rest around his neck. The kiss was passionate, something which pleasantly surprised them both. He kissed, grazed and bit his way along her jaw. It escalated quickly, and soon enough Butch had laid Nic back and was on top of her. He pushed his hips into hers and they each let out a gasp of satisfaction as they moved against one another, when breathlessly, and reluctantly, Nicola pushed him away. He looked at her, confused and concerned, fearing he'd taken it too far too fast, especially in her vulnerable state. She saw the panic in his features and laughed as she read his mind.

"No, you didn't take it too fast." She pulled a pained face as she propped herself up and leant her forehead against his. "I'm just a little too sore right now. I need some stims.." She trailed off, as they both shared a grin. Butch ran an uneasy hand through his hair as he sat himself back upright, while Nic stood and stared down at him. He met her gaze with confusion. "Well? What're you waiting for, Tunnel Snake?" she asked, but Butch still didn't comprehend. Nic sighed. "You gonna help me break into the clinic? Or has life on this boat made you soft?" she challenged him with a sultry wink. Butch laughed heartily.

"First things first, babe." he stated. She looked at him confusedly. He just smirked unashamedly at her. "Let's see if we can't do somethin' about that hair, huh?"